BENUE NEW YEAR DAY ATTACK: ‘They Mowed Us Down With Guns, Machetes’

They had gone to bed praying and hoping to wake up the next day in a new year when marauding gunmen raided their villages, leaving behind death, displacement and desolation.

Again, they have fled their homes in droves. Mothers with children strapped to their backs and loads hurriedly packed on their heads or tugged into wheelbarrows as they dragged infants alongside to escape the carnage unleashed upon them.

Sadly, some of them like Mary Kume, still got caught up in the attackers’ hell of bullets, as they pounced on her Tom-atar village of Sanghev ward in Guma Local Government Area of Benue State.

It was yet another attack by gunmen, now confirmed by the police to be herders, on six villages straddling two local government areas of Logo and Guma in Benue State. The invasion was carried out between Monday, January 1 and Tuesday, January 2, 2018, respectively.

Kume, who is now receiving treatment at the Benue State University Teaching Hospital (BSUTH) in Makurdi for the severe injuries she sustained on her right eye and other parts of the body, could only mutter few words as she explained that the gunmen invaded her community at 5am on Tuesday.

“They shot sporadically, killing anyone in sight while a number of them broke into people’s homes and hacked them down with cutlasses. I tried to escape but was hit by a bullet on one of my eyes,” she narrated amidst sobs, as she tried to reconstruct the picture of the gory events that happened to them that fateful day.

Beside her bed was a male victim, Akaater Azera, who was also injured in the morning attack at Toma-atar village.

Another victim, Saslamemga Bua, a member of the Livestock Guard recently established by the state government to implement the state’s recently enacted anti-grazing law, was also lucky to survive the attack but with a bullet wound to his back.

Bua explained that the incident occurred on Tuesday around 5:00am while he was at his duty post at a primary school in Tomatar village of Guma alongside his 24 other colleagues posted to the area.

He said: “We suddenly heard gunshots from every direction. We immediately knew that the village was under siege by the gunmen who we suspected to be herders. They shot sporadically and in every direction, killing four of my colleagues on the spot.

According to 37-year-old Bua, the guards’ cutlasses were no match to the sophisticated weapons brandished by the gunmen, as they found themselves helpless in the face of a hopeless situation.

The father-of-four added: “I’m a native of Se’av-Mbawar in Logo Local Government area where my wife and children reside but was posted to work at Tomatar village in Guma. We were only armed with cutlasses to do our job. I even lost the cutlass and my phone during the attack.” on Sunday gathered that the affected villages included: Gambe-Tiev, Turan and Ayilamo of Logo Local Government Area and Akor, Tom-atar and Umenger in Guma Local Government Area, respectively.

It was learnt that at Ayilamo village of Logo, the attackers had opened fire on the victims just at the close of new year service at about 10am on Monday as they burnt down houses and ransacked the area.

A bereaved man, James Korgba, said he lost his younger brother, Torhemba, to the attack, which also claimed the lives of many other people, including pregnant women and children.

Korgba also disclosed that many people remained missing in the affected communities, saying more bodies were recovered from the surrounding bushes.

The locals claimed that over 50 were killed.

But Governor Samuel Ortom, who spoke to newsmen shortly after an emergency state security meeting in Makurdi on Tuesday afternoon, said over 20 people were killed.

It was, however, gathered that more dead bodies were brought into the morgue of the teaching hospital from the troubled communities of Guma LGA after the governor’s announcement.

Earlier, a mortuary attendant in the hospital told on Sunday that 17 corpses from Guma alone were kept in the facility, just as a medical practitioner in the hospital’s Department of Surgery, Dr. Gajir Tsoho, confirmed that 30 injured persons were admitted.

Ortom, in his reaction, said, “What happened in the villages was far beyond the report I initially received that more than 20 people were killed and amongst them nine of the livestock guards who were there to ensure that there were no clashes.

“Even innocent women and children were killed. This is not fair. This is not acceptable. We are not going to accept it. There is no going back on the implementation of the grazing law. This is our land and the law was duly passed by our people,” he said.

The governor lamented that since enacting the grazing law, which came into force on November 1, 2017, there had been threats from some herders’ groups, particularly the Myetti Allah Kautal Hore, which he had consistently drawn the attention of the Federal Government to, but nothing seemed to be done about it.

He added, “Now, those people who have been killed, their blood will cry to the Federal Government and, if the Federal Government does not do something, their blood will cry to the Almighty God, and I’m sure that God will deal with the situation Himself. This is not fair and it is not acceptable.”

On its part, the Benue State Police Command confirmed the arrest of eight herders in connection with the fresh killings in Guma and Logo local governments.

A statement by the Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO) for the command, ASP Moses Joel Yamu, blamed the attacks on suspected herdsmen, saying a total of 17 people, including seven members of Benue State Livestock Guards were killed, their vehicle burnt and an uncertain number of persons injured in separate attacks between the New Year’s Eve and Tuesday morning.

He said two rural settlements of Agba-Uko near Azege village and Tse-Aga village in Logo LGA experienced the same fate where one person was killed, one motorcycle burnt and four persons injured.

The attacks sparked protests in the streets of Makurdi, the state capital, on Wednesday where the demonstrators criticised what they described as President Muhammadu Buhari’s silence over attacks by suspected herders.

The protesters told Buhari to immediately act on the incessant killings by gunmen in Benue State or resign as they barricaded major access roads, made bonfires and chanted war songs.

Soon, the protest turned violent and three people reportedly lost their lives while many others sustained injuries.

Viashima Nyam, a driver who sustained injury during the protest and on hospital admission, told our correspondent that he was attacked by the protesters at Wurukum junction roundabout in Makurdi.

While another victim of the protest, Azever Eric, a 100 Level Microbiology student of the Federal University of Agriculture, explained that a bullet hit him at SRS junction in North Bank area of Makurdi after the protest went awry and pandemonium ensued.

More protests

The Benue State chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), described the incessant attacks as flagrant violation of the fundamental rights of the people of Benue as well as the sanctity of the constitution of the country.

The state’s CAN chairman, Rev. Akpen Leva, therefore, expressed dismay at the failure of the Federal Government to curb unwarranted killings and wanton destruction of lives and property by the suspected herders.

Similarly, the Makurdi branch of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), has alleged that the attitude of government towards the attacks undermines the corporate existence of the country as one indissoluble and indivisible entity.

The NBA’s chairman, Barr. Emmanuel Agbakor, added that his branch of the union stands with the state government and the enforcement of the anti-grazing law, which the suspected herders allegedly wanted to frustrate.

Contacted, the Benue State Public Relations Officer of Myetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN), Alhaji Umaru Sariki Naira, said he and all members of the association were under instruction not to speak about the current crisis in the state.

“We are not permitted to speak to anyone on the present development in the state. I can’t comment, neither would any of our members speak on this matter,” he said.